The British Crace maintains his reputation as a bold fabulist with this third novel (Continent; The Gift of Stones) about urban man nourished by fictions of his rural past. Victor, the Vegetable King, began by peddling eggs in the marketplace at age seven; now, a millionaire octogenarian, he decides to replace the open-air market with a glass-enclosed extravaganza. That's the gist of what happens here; Crace passes up conventional storylines (a rags-to-riches saga, corporate intrigue) to attend to his own altogether convincing world, recognizably contemporary but geographically indeterminate--a city rooted in a medieval English past but dependent on American-style freeways, its two poles Big Vic (the fortress-like skyscraper where frail, laconic Victor lives alone) and the Soap Market, where the soapies (fruit and vegetable traders) form a link between town and country and dispense ``the blessing of the multitude'' as lustily as the denizens of Gershwin's Catfish Row. And where, too, Victor's mother, Em, a new arrival from the country, once begged for money, Victor a fixture at her breast, Em transforming her harsh rural past into a ``tinseled paradise,'' passing on this fantasy to Victor, who will eventually pass it on to the entire city as Arcadia, his exotic new marketplace. Crace skips over the 70-odd years between Victor's debut as a boy-trader and his present eminence, dwelling instead on the struggle between Victor and his top aide, Rook, fired for taking kickbacks from the soapies; but the struggle, and Rook's grisly end, are in turn secondary to the coming of Arcadia--the novel's climax--and Crace's opportunity for a somewhat trite attack on shopping malls. Read this for its story, and you'll feel shortchanged; read it for its rich texture, with influences running the gamut from Robert Browning to speculative fiction, and you'll feel amply rewarded.